A Washington preservationist group this week gave developers fair warning of what areas and buildings in the old downtown it will fight to preserve.
The move was a major depature for the group, Don't Tear It Down, which generally has launched its efforts to protect historic and architecturally significant buildings after applications for demolition permits have been filed. Architectural historian Kim Hoagland, who helped make the analysis, described the area as being "subject to particularly intense pressures for development."
"We decided to identify the city's architectural and historic resources in this area, so that the development of downtown will optimize these resources," she said.
Don't Tear It Down says it made an exhaustive 20-month study of every building in the old downtown area between 15th Street NW and Capitol Hill. As a result, the organization was able to identify 10 buildings and three areas it believes should be spared the wrecking ball as massive redevelopment comes to the area.
Don't Tear It Down Director Judith School said the group hopes that, by presenting its view of what should be retained before development got under way, developers might be able to "integrate these preservation priorities with their plans."
"What we're looking for is appropriate redevelopment with appropriate preservation," she said.
The areas identified as potential historic districts by the group include the residential area around Seventh and H streets, generally known as Chinatown; a commercial area that includes Seventh and F streets; a Mall patch of Pennsylvania Avenue; and an addition to the city's traditional finance district at 15th and Pennsylvania for which historic-district status already was being sought.
The buildings identified were the Westory Building at 1345 F St., the Warner Theater Building at 13th and E streets, the Calvary Baptist Church and two auxiliary buildings at Eighth and H streets, the old Lanburgh's department store at Eighth and E and the Hecht Co. building at Seventh and F.
The list also includes a group of buildings in the 600 block of Indiana Avenue, including Litwin & Co.'s building; a house at 501 D St. across from D.C. Superior Court and two nearby buildings; two Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. buildings on 12th Street; the Homer Building on 13th and F and G streets; and the Masonic Temple building at 13th and New York Avenue.
The group asked three experts in historic and architectural preservation -- with the approval of the city's historic preservation office -- to evaluate the study's methodology and conclusions, and they said they believed that "the whole downtown should be declared a historic district," Sobol said.
Part of the old downtown already has status as a landmark area. The Pennsylvania Avenue Historical Site, which was declared in the 1960's, includes such major landmarks as the National Portrait Gallery building (the old Patent Office), the Willard Hotel and the old Post Office.
In addition, a number of individual buildings in the downtown have been designated landmarks, including Ford's Theater and the Mary Surratt House on 11th Street and the Riggs Bank at Ninth and F streets NW.
The residential historic district proposed by Don't Tear It Down includes Chinatown and covers an area between G and K streets and Ninth and Fifth streets. About 85 percent of the structures in the area were originally residential buildings, although some now have been converted for commercial uses.
Hoagland described the neighborhood as having the largest concentration of pre-Civil War residential buildings between Capitol Hill and Georgetown. An area once heavily populated by German Jews (the area includes three former synagogues). Chinese immigrants moved to the area in 1932 when they were displaced by development near Fourth and Pennsylvania, where they previously were concentrated.
The commercial area proposed by Don't Tear It Down includes portions of three streets which at one time were considered the city's main shopping streets. Pennsylvania Avenue was the city's first major commercial street, said Nancy Schwartz, a Don't Tear It Down member. The group's proposed district would include a handful of buildings near Market Square across from the National Archives -- and near the site of what was once the city's principal market on Pennsylvania -- that are about all that remain of the avenue's commercial past.
Seventh Street, which became the city's first paved thoroughfare in 1845, evolved into a major commercial area after the Civil War. It was a principal location for the city's dry-goods merchants, including the Lansburgh brothers, Schwartz said. They later expanded their dry goods store to become the city's first department store. Lansburgh's was closed in 1973.
The city's furniture stores were concentrated near Seventh and I, where many of them remain.
The F Street corridor began as a residential area but gradually became commercial. Many jewelers, opticians and watchmakers located there because it was near the old Patent Office and there was a need for skilled craftsmen to make patent models.
The third area propsed by Don't Tear It Down is a small area which includes nine buildings on New York Avenue between 13th and G adjoining the city's traditional financial district at 15th and Pennsylvania Avenue. The larger area was proposed for historic district status last August.
Saving the three areas and the buildings, seven of which are within the areas, will preserve the diversity and vitality that have characterized the old downtown and help Washington retain its human scale, Don't Tear It Down officials said.